Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Practice Makes Perfect

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Writing is all about the practice and I have one dear friend, Matthew, who helps me do just that. He is my sounding board for ideas; my beta reader for stories, blog posts, poems, you name it; and someone who encourages me and challenges me along the way. He asks poignant questions, makes me think and often helps me see things through different eyes. Most of all he forces encourages me to write.

A few weeks ago, Matthew asked me to write a beach scene. The challenge was to write it from two different points of view, one being of a woman in love and one of a woman with a broken heart. Same beach but different feelings. At first I thought, easy peasy, but then I started writing. The difficulty came from the fact that the emotion I was writing about was something I wasn’t currently experiencing. So I had to dig deep into my memories from so long ago and see if I could dust off the cobwebs and “be in love” again. This proved challenging, which made me begin to wonder if I had ever really experienced “true love”. So I tried my hand at the broken hearted point of view.

What can I say? This was much easier. Perhaps along my journey, I have let my broken heart consume me and shield me from allowing myself to love again? Whatever the case, this writing challenge made me re-think where I am in life. Have I been fooling myself into thinking that my previous broken heart was mended? Am I afraid to to open my heart again? One beach scene and I was analyzing the writer's block and feeling like I hadn't allowed myself to truly feel all these years. It is time to take that leap of faith and jump. If I end up with a happily ever after then FABULOUS! If my heart is broken again, then at least I will be feeling something instead of hiding my heart away from the world.

For those curious, here are my two paragraphs that describe a beach from two points of view:

Fourth of July fireworks erupted, hiding the night stars with magnificent, colourful explosions that danced through the sky. The perfect end to the perfect day, Nora thought as she stood on the only white rock along the shoreline. Love permeated the air and Nora inhaled deeply, drawing in its sweet scent that mixed so deliciously with the salty ocean air and the lingering of Rico’s muskiness left on her skin. It was an unusually hot and sticky night but despite the uncomfortableness of the heat, Nora felt the magic of love around her. Rico loved her. Really loved her. "HE LOVES ME!" Nora yelled out over the water and then jumped in. Her hot skin tingled from the coolness of the ocean water. It felt wonderful. Making her way back to shore, Nora lay back along the sandy shoreline. She smiled quietly to herself as a warm breeze holding infinite possibilities drifted across the sand, carrying them to the horizon and letting them go.

Her skin pimples as the abnormally cool July breeze that scurries across the ocean meets her at its edge. Nora wraps her arms around herself as she tries to make sense of it all watching the angry waves crash into the shore, pummeling the sand with no reprieve. The irascible ocean spews its bile of white foam onto the grains of sand, ridding itself of mans impurities. The remnants of her shattered heart pounds fiercely in her chest. Her sobs take over her body, uncontrolled and erratic. Each breath filled with salty ocean air punctures her lungs in the caustic wake of the day’s events. He no longer loved her. Nora shuts her eyes and lets out a harrowing cry into the abyss that now lies ahead. All the pain, passion and love within her thunders out across the water, disappearing into the horizon. Collapsing on the cold, wet sand, Nora summons the tide to carry her away, past the horizon, where the pain lives no more.

While the writing exercise allowed me to understand how emotion changes how we perceive the world around us and get closer to the mastery my craft, perhaps the lesson learned here is love needs to be practiced and I need to open my heart to the possibilities again.

Talk to me! How many hours do you put into practising what you love?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Boxing Up Your Life

Packing up a home tells you what you hold important and what is purely excess. My wonderful realtor did a once through of my home, nonchalantly naming off this, that and the other thing that needed to disappear until I sold my humble abode. They held no meaning to him and I soon discovered there was a lot that meant nothing to me either.

My first step in the process of selling was to de-clutter the six years worth of "stuff" I'd accumulated for no better reason than "I wanted it". These objects were the easiest to box up. I didn't even think twice about packing them away and possibly keeping them hidden forever. As I packed up the items to depersonalize my place, I found myself reveling in the past and becoming reacquainted with precious things I had put away carefully. These particular items had a life of their own. Not shiny or sparkling, not cutting edge or technologically advanced, they held pieces of the past, memories and thoughts in their matter.
Photo albums of every shape and size, brightly coloured or plain black took me from high school to motherhood; from across Canada to Europe and the Pacific Rim; from family moments to family ghosts. These books filled with hundreds of photos held so many memories. I found myself entangled in years gone by, relishing in memories and bringing them back to life. I could taste decadent meals that loved ones spent hours creating; I could smell the perfume of frangipanis and the sea while I was basking in the sun of the Australian beaches I called home for a year; I felt the warm embrace of my grandfather as we wished each other a very merry, happy, good "whatever the occasion” was. The thought of storing these photographs in a dark locker deep within the bowels of my building scared me. These were far too dear to be stored, even temporarily, in a wire cage.

As the de-cluttering moved into my bedroom, I pulled out an old tattered leather file box filled with beautiful folders, delicately designed in pastel motifs that held hand written stories from my childhood and typewritten stories from my teenage years and early 20's (before the time when every home had a computer). These stories still appeared in between writing projects to revise, enjoy and then tuck away again. Stories that represented a younger, more vibrant me when everything seemed possible. The pencil markings on some were fading, the paper crumpled from years of handling. Every time I pulled these out, I felt like I was reading the diary of my younger soul. This old, brown file box lived upstairs and it would just have to stay where it was.

As I continued to plough through this erasing of my personal effects, I was faced with the insurmountable task of packing up my bookcases. One of my previous posts, The Bookcase mentioned how important my books are. These cases house not only recent purchases of books that caught my eye but also my precious collection of rare and antique books. These works by some of the greatest writers in literature were the birthplaces of my love of the written word. Their smell, the delicate pages and beautiful covers are of an era when books were revered and not digitally downloaded to enjoy.
It pained me, knife-through-the-heart type of pain, to think that something horrible would happen to these precious pieces of me if they were out of my sight. It was then that I realized that besides my children, these were the only things that, if lost, damaged or destroyed, would leave a void in my life I could never replace.

Funny how when the time comes to box up your life, the reality of what is important, I mean really important, hits you in the face.

Talk To Me! What are the things that would leave a gaping hole in your life if lost?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

137 Days

The journey we take makes up what our life becomes. It could be long, short, happy, sad, adventurous or bordering on the mundane. From the first breath we take, it begins, first being led by those who love us. At some point, we veer off the path of our loved ones and start carving out our own, making the journey of our life relevant to who we are. It is along our journey that we meet obstacles, fall in love, deal with grief and sometimes stop because there is a gaping hole in front of us. These holes represent the catalyst to change and growth.

I faced this hole many times in my life but I never realized what they meant or what I had to do.  This abrupt stop in my journey happened recently, in fact 137 days ago. It happened right after I wrote my last post. I experienced a profound sadness after losing someone who had been such an important part of my whole life. 

At first I felt the overwhelming desire to do nothing; to get lost in the everyday minutiae that was safe and secure, like a favourite plush toy that gives you comfort in the dark. I allowed myself to just be and not do. I sat there, staring at the nothingness in front of me; my ever moving mind battled between sitting still or getting off my ass and doing something. I knew that in my current spot I would whither away but what I didn't know was what my desired spot was. My life is good, I am surrounded by wonderful people, have an amazing family and have done some incredibly fantastic things in life and some insanely stupid things. So what is it that I need to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes?

In the 137 days, I have set myself up to build a bridge between my current spot and where I want to be. It is funny how when you start seeing life this way, things begin to fall into place. These periods of transition help catapult us to the next level. But it's how you build these bridges that determine if you achieve your goal or not. I identified that happiness had to stay with me on the other side, as did the love I have for my family and friends. They are, afterall, the pillars in my life. I needed a new space, one that was larger and brighter, with new energy and soul, that could accommodate the growth I'd experience in this crossing. But what was my ultimate goal? I had many ideas, some lofty, some more modest, some that helped build courage and others that solidified my strength. I needed to move forward and hone in on what my goal was. 

To feel good about myself. 

Writing. Writing was the one thing that fell off the radar. It was the easiest thing to forget about since it didn't rely on me to feed it, drive it to swimming lessons or create strategies to make the year's numbers but it was the one thing that I felt breathed life into me. No wonder I became so listless and walked around with a heaviness that would crush a diamond. You see, writing isn't something I want to do, it's something I need to do. It allows me to free my psyche from the constraints of all the "must dos" that I face daily. It has always been my reprieve. I always felt better when I wrote, even as a young girl. It could be a journal entry, a university paper, a short story or one line with which I painstakingly grappled for hours. That act of creating fills me with purpose, contentment and power. 

The bridge I built that took me from where I was to where I am is made up of fellow writers who encourage me and challenge me. They helped me battle the self-imposed obstacles, aka excuses, I overcame.  Over the past 137 days, I have seen one friend publish her book and another is half way done editing his third novel. I watch them in awe, envious of the focus they have, forever making excuses for my laziness. "I am too busy, too tired, have no inspiration". All excuses, all obstacles. My end game just didn't make sense anymore and then a good friend gave me a great piece of advice. Just write. Don't think. Just write. 

Life changing words. 

So I started again, one word at a time. A note to my child, a letter to a friend, a poem, a writing exercise. It was my first step to building that bridge. 

Next was carving out time for writing. My schedule over the past few months has been insane and at then end of all the craziness, when I would sit down to write, I found myself falling asleep. I had to establish a routine. Not only for writing but for everything. That constant feeling of being rushed was not conducive to my well being.

My calendar now looks ridiculous. I found that scheduling for every hour of my time makes me accountable. Accountability and organization, believe it or not, are giving me freedom to do all that I need to do and want to do. It's a little thing but it makes a huge difference. 

The next thing I am starting to do is to let things go. I tend to let the things I can't control take over and it affects me mentally and physically. Stress is a hateful enemy that, if allowed, will drain the life from your veins. I need to become my own defence shield  in this war and counter attack. I am learning to breathe deeply, become mindful and relax. This is by far the hardest part of the bridge. High octane fuel runs through this body and after years of constant acceleration you can't make a hard stop. I have faith that slowing down can be learned before I am forced to against my own will. 

My bridge is slowly being built and I feel better. It's my healing process, my reset button in the here and now. It isn't the first I've built and I'm certain it won't be the last but it's the one I feel I have actively identified and am managing. It took me 137 to start building this and I don't know how long before it's done but I have surrounded myself with people and strategies that help construct the road I am travelling. 

And I'm travelling with a smile on my face. 

Talk to me! How do you build the bridges in your life? 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas is a Feeling....

The Christmas season is upon us. Trees glisten and glow, twinkling a red, green and gold. Menus are being planned and tested as fragrances of vanilla and cinnamon permeate the air. Melodies of trusted carols and new ones are heard on radios and in school auditoriums. It is the one time of year where the collective heartbeat of the world is felt beating all around. Wars are still being fought, sickness is still being battled and heartache still pierces the soul but there is something about this time of year that masks all the bad with a protective coating that lasts for a few weeks.

Christmas is by far my favourite holiday. There is something about the warmth it brings to my heart during a cold winter. Growing up, our Christmases were filled with wrapped boxes, elaborate meals and the cacaphony of a big Italian family. My senses still ignite when I am lured back into my ghosts of Christmases past. I hear the baritone voice of my grandfather breaking out into Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle after dinner. He was a jolly man who sat at the head of the table and even though he was the gentlest of souls he commanded a great presence in an unobtrusive way. He loved his grandchildren unconditionally, to the point where he would sit and chuckle as we helped dress him up as Santa. My grandmother, who ruled her house sternly throughout the year, would let down her guard and enjoy the craziness and sit on Santa’s lap with a smile on her face.
For years, my brother and I were the only children at table and that meant the colourfully wrapped boxes under the tree belonged to us. Ask me what my favourite gifts were, I couldn't tell you but ask me about the feeling in the room, I can tell you in great detail. It was chaotic but filled with a sense of belonging. Christmas Eve was blanket that held us together close and warm. I felt safe watching my boisterous family moving from kitchen to living room. I remember seeing the smiling eyes of my aunt and uncles watching as my brother and I dove in and tore apart the exquisitely wrapped boxes. My grandparents and great grandparents would laugh at our expressions and received such satisfaction that they brought joy to their only two grandchildren at the time. But the joy wasn't from the gifts, it was from the sense of family that enveloped us. The adults always tried to organize the process of opening presents but year after year, failed miserably. Who would want to get in between a child and their Christmas present?
As my brother and I entered our teens, our family had expanded. Aunt and Uncle married and with those unions, Christmas was brought alive again by the sound of little voices and feet running through the house. The house was re-energized and new traditions were made. I loved watching the young ones run through the house the way my brother and I did. Four little people who enjoyed the boxes the gifts came in rather than the actual gift. We played board games and cards after dinner while the smell of chestnuts roasting filled our nostrils. At about the time the chestnuts were done, there would be a knock at the door and standing on the other side would be my grandmother's brother's family, who lived three houses down. Let the festivities begin!
The houses would take turns visiting and this was something I looked forward to every year. We saw each other daily throughout the year but the visit of Christmas Eve was one I waited for excitedly. One year they would show up singing carols and the next we would show up with a drum in hand bellowing a very horrible rendition of Little Drummer Boy. It was magical being surrounded by the people who meant most to me. These were the best Christmases of my youth. The two families were close and the memories made are etched in all our hearts. It is these memories we need to carry with us and hold dear.
With the birth of my children, Christmas evolved again. Two new faces, wide eyed and innocent, graced our lives. Gone were some of the old faces. My great grandparents no longer sat at the dinner table, my paternal grandmother watched from heaven above, my grandfather, my uncle and my aunt lived only within our minds and hearts now. The mood around the table changed. Those young cousins were now 20 somethings and our family a few doors down had moved. Instead of a warm, happy time, people sat angry, sad and disappointed that these bodies no longer sat at our table. My children would watch the elders and try to understand why the sadness. It is something that they couldn’t comprehend. For them, they believe these souls are still with us and want us to regale them with stories of years gone by and be happy.

This year is Christmas is bittersweet. The collective heartbeat pounds loudly but there is an over-lying sense of heartache. We are watching some relatives struggle with their health and facing a future that is nearing an end. My children are older now and understand more with a heavy sadness in their hearts. They know Christmas next year will be different with more souls watching from above. But for this year they want to be grateful for the gifts these family members have given them throughout their lives. They want to live in the moment and make sure when that moment passes it becomes permanently inked on their hearts. For them, the ghosts of the past are memories waiting to be created by the stories we share. The ghosts of tomorrow are already a part of who they are and for this they are forever grateful.
The collective heartbeat at Christmas time brings hope, clarity, wonderment and most importantly love. Despite the sadness that lingers in the air, I still crave to be part of this heartbeat and so do my children. Christmas is more than the delicious food, beautiful decorations and wonderful gifts. It is a feeling that lives within our hearts and memories and no one can take that away.
Happy Holidays and may love and happiness surround you and your families!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

My Own Worst Enemy

Looking at the words on my computer screen, I can feel defeat set in. Hot tears begin to pool in my eyes and the muscles in my spine slowly collapse. An eternal conflict between head and heart ensues and my breathing becomes short and quick. I hear that voice screaming in my head, "don't waste your time!" Yet my heart keeps tugging at me gently urging me to never give up.

Any writer will tell you this is a normal experience that is felt often, if not daily. Not only by the wanna-bes but the famous as well. Writing wasn’t something that I just decided to one day take up; it has been a part of my being since I was a young girl. Was it the romanticism of what I believed a writer was that drew me in or was it the overwhelming desire to create stories where readers could get lost?

There are days where I feel I am being pulled in a thousand directions; building upon one idea, coming up with another, moving to something completely different. So much to write about, so much to share and not enough time to get it all down. Hemingway’s words run through my mind daily, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." And bleed I do. Profusely. Yet I feel as though I have accomplished nothing. I don't have an agent. I'm not published. I write because it makes me happy.

Another quote I love about writing is from Anaïs Nin. "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect". Her words excite me. It's a personal journey for me that allows all my senses ignite not once but twice. Yet I often still feel overwhelming self-doubt and want to throw in the towel every other day. Doubt is the enemy and holds fear in its hands. It can stop me mid-sentence and render my mind immobile. I sabotage myself and go to war with my psyche, inevitably believing that I will fail.

But the days in between that ugly cover of doubt are filled with big dreams and a general giddiness that accompanies a feeling of "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can and I will". When I sit in front of that blank sheet of paper, the possibilities are endless and creation is all mine. "A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God". Sidney Sheldon's words ring true. It's not easy being a writer and I truly believe that self-doubt, tears, anger and frustration help elevate us to heights unknown if we don't allow them to infiltrate every moment of our days. Let it percolate for a bit and then toss it aside.

All easier said than done, of course. I end up creating this story around me about why I am not good writer. I don’t have a Master’s Degree in English; I haven’t read all the books from literary geniuses; I am not as good as Mr. or Ms. “X” whose book is on shelf now; Rejection, rejection, rejection; It is so hard to come up with something new, everything has been done. These thoughts lead to my self-doubt and to behaviour that is often associated with someone who has given up. This WAS the story I lived and breathed on my days of doubt but it is not the story I WILL be part of. A good friend and fellow writer, who just happens to have two books published gave me some great advice. “Never compare yourself to other writers, only compare yourself today to the writer you were yesterday.” So my new story is I am better than I was yesterday and my words will be a dialogue with my readers one day.

I am sure that my days of self-doubt will continue to surface like an unwanted rash but I am also positive that my days of believing in myself will last for longer than an instant.

TALK TO ME! How do you push through your self-doubt and inner criticism? What tool do you use that helps conquer the doubt?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Bookcase

The books were organized in alphabetical order, lined up perfectly against the edge of each shelf. There were hundreds of them, each acquired by either content or beauty. The special ones, those bound in leather and printed well before the modern day press, were tucked away in a glass cabinet. Some dated back 10 years, some 300 years but all possessed the same magic of being able to transport the soul to another time, another place. 

These were her most prized possessions and price could never be placed on any. Each of these stories touched her in a way that could never be described through her words alone. It was the feeling they brought her, that tiny bit of excitement that begins to swell inside the pit of her stomach when she begins to be drawn in to a story that has the possibility of taking her anywhere. She was free inside the covers, reading to fly across the Atlantic to meet her lover who waited for her on foreign soil. Her love, the one who held her hand as they manoevered through dark and dirty streets, running from the evils that lurked in the shadows. A lover who made her pulse quicken as he slowly unbuttoned her blouse, revealing alabaster skin under a black lace brassiere. 

She ensured that these cases were looked after with the same care a mother uses with her child. Not a speck of dirt could be found. It was immaculate. Dust jackets were in impeccable shape, each protecting and holding it's body close. Often, she would stand in awe before them, running her finger along the spines, remembering the journey she took with it. Minutes would turn into hours as she became further entrenched in her reverie, whisked away to a distant place.

Photo by A.Bresar
The Bookcase
Photo by Audrey Bresar

These cases held the many lives she lived. It pained her when asked if one could be borrowed.  Pieces of her soul inhabited the pages and the possibility of having it lost or damaged caused her a great deal of turmoil.  Just the thought of sharing her treasures gave her palpitations, her palms became clammy and her vision blurred. She could not bear to part with any even for a brief moment. In her mind, it was absurd to share something so personal with the masses. The solace, the intrigue, the love that she found in the chapters was hers and hers alone.

The bookcases that housed these pieces of her sat in plain view for her to enjoy, flanked along side a crimson divan which acted as the vessel that would prepare her for these escapes. The velvet cushion of the sofa enveloped her like warm arms that held on tight. An oasis, her very own Shangri-La, an hegira amid the hustle and bustle of her daily life. 

Shangri-La Photo by A. Bresar
Photo by Audrey Bresar

Talk to me! Do books have the same effect on you?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Behind the Smile Live Some Tears

Much to some people's belief, I am not always smiles and positivity.  In fact, there was a time where I cried. A lot. More than a lot. In fact, it was daily. I felt defeated, torn down. Alone. Like I made a mess of everything that was ever bestowed upon me. I began to second guess my worth. Fleeting moments of insecurity evolved into minutes, hours, days and weeks. My self esteem had been beaten and battered past the point of recognition. So it really irks me when people say I have a "charmed and easy life". 

Here is the reality. Yes, I work at a job in an industry that I love. I work hard, putting pressure on myself to succeed because the fear of not being able to provide my children with a roof over their head or food on the table scares the hell out of me. The fact is I was not working when we became a family of three. I was home with two babies making sure they were happy and healthy and trying to save my marriage. I knew I didn't want to go back to teaching but what could I do? It took three months for me to figure that out and I have been working hard to get to a place where the worry can subside a bit.

I don't have anyone I am accountable to. Is that positive? For married friends and family, the answer is yes. The truth? It sucks. I have been married twice but I still seem to have eluded true love. This is heartbreaking for a hopeless romantic like myself. But I have not given up. The weight of all my decisions is on my shoulders, there is no one with whom I can discuss things. When the kids want to go out for an afternoon all my household duties are put on hold which results in a frenzy that is arguably the most stressful part of keeping it all together. At the end of the day, when the kids are in bed, there is no one to share stories with. I go to bed alone, void of the warmth of someone beside me. No arms are there to hold me, no warm breath on my neck or soothing words to lull me to sleep. 

My life is what I make of it and the bumps and bruises along the way didn't scar me or push me into a corner. It was these things that made me look at life differently. I couldn't fit a square peg into a round hole so I adjusted. I changed the way I looked at life, fixed the way I carried myself, decided that my attitude could make or break me. There are still hurdles to jump and obstacles to avoid which means there will still be tears, frustration and upset. 

BUT....for the most part, my day is all smiles, interrupted by the occasional tear that flows freely during times of uncertainty or loneliness.

In the end, I live the life that was given to me, not a bad life, not an easy life but a blessed one. 

TALK TO ME! What do you hide behind your smile?